By Jayne Davis, DCoE Strategic Communications
Have you ever tried to communicate with a person who speaks a different language? No matter how clearly, or slowly, you speak, the other person just doesn’t seem to understand you. This sometimes happens when military culture and language collide with civilian providers, as when reserve component members seek behavioral health care post-deployment.
Reserve component members often choose civilian health care providers because they may not be able to access services from the Defense Department or the Department of Veterans Affairs for psychological health care and substance abuse treatment.
“When they do [visit civilian providers], what commonly occurs is they voice military references and acronyms in an effort to relate whatever concerns brought them there, which they may not understand themselves, to someone with no understanding of military culture,” said Master Sgt. Stephanie Weaver, National Guard counterdrug liaison, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA).
Weaver is a proponent of what’s called “military cultural competence,” a kind of peer support effort to better understand reserve component military culture. According to Weaver, knowing how to communicate in the same language makes it easier to talk about difficult issues and experiences with reintegration. This leads to effective care and more recovery options.
Since 2001, more than 2.2 million service members have deployed, with nearly 40 percent coming from the National Guard and reserves. Because of their unique civilian and military responsibilities, more should be done to help this community.
“Reserve component members are not routinely attached to a base or post and therefore their reintegration period is far shorter than active-duty service members,” said Air Force Col. Christopher Robinson, DCoE deputy director for psychological health. “Also, they’re not apt to be as plugged in to reintegration and transition resources available to all service members, so that’s where DCoE’s online resources can really help.”
Here are some ways civilian providers can improve their military cultural competence:
- Operation Immersion: This military culture immersion program for behavioral health care providers seeks to reduce stigma and substance use disorders. SAMHSA and the Tennessee National Guard serve as two of the co-hosts for the training.
- Military Cultural Competence online course: Center for Deployment Psychology, a DCoE component center, provides this training to help civilian mental health care providers communicate more effectively with service members and their families.
Here are additional resources reserve component members can use to improve their reintegration experiences:
- Real Warriors Campaign articles for reserve component members
- Joint Family Support Assistance Program for geographically dispersed military families
- National Center for Telehealth and Technology, a DCoE component center, just held its first live workshop on how providers can offer mental health care services through videoconference. Read about it on the DCoE Blog.
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